The Season So Far
To no great surprise in any quarter, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ have continued their unique and inexhaustible Jekyll and Hyde act and keep on taking it to new and dizzying extremes: when they have the ball and they’re on form, they’re one of the most devastating attacking units most fans can ever recall seeing, piling forwards in rapid, ruthless fashion and filling their boots on a regular basis. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané have 26, 19 and 9 goals for the season respectively and Philippe Coutinho found time between transfer requests and eventual departure to bag 12 of his own. They have thumped Arsenal, beaten Manchester City and scored three or more goals in 13 of 25 Premier League games, as well as four of six Champions League matches.
When the other team has the ball, however, we’re never sure exactly how embarrassing things could get for the Reds. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius has been as untrustworthy as ever and, despite recent improvements, the long-suffering Dejan Lovren and the unfortunately braindead Alberto Moreno have continued to let the side down. Making Virgil Van Dijk the most expensive defender in the world and finding a new left-back in Andrew Robertson haven’t helped: since Van Dijk’s arrival Liverpool have lost to then-bottom Swansea and conceded three at home to now-bottom West Bromwich Albion, getting knocked out of the FA Cup in the process. The mind boggles.
The biggest problem with Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ is that, much like Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal, nothing seems to change. This is exactly what we were saying this time last year, and very close to what we were saying at the end of Klopp’s first half-season in charge. The Reds’ status as a tactically imbalanced, bipolar side just as likely to collapse and lose 4-0 as they are to explode and win 4-0 remains unchanged. While there’s still a sense that their charismatic German manager “just gets it” and is the right and only man for the task at hand, the evidence that things just aren’t getting any better is piling up and serious criticism is beginning to be voiced.
The Season Ahead
Given that they’re somehow out of the FA Cup and that Manchester City very much have the Premier League title in the bag, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ will now shift their focus to retaining their spot in the top four and securing Champions League qualification for another season. With so many goals in the team, they should have enough to finish the season in those Champions League spots and there’s always the chance that they’ll actually end up mounting a serious European challenge this time around, but with such a porous defence and such disastrous goalkeepers it seems like winning trophies is out of the question for now.
As a firm believer in working on the training ground, Klopp is somewhat out of place in this most “SPEND SOME F***ING MONEY!” of Premier League seasons, and in the second half of the season it will be his mission to turn Liverpool into a more secure, less meltdown-y defensive unit. The media will implore him to spend big on the likes of Jack Butland and Harry Maguire in the summer, but for now Klopp will do his utmost to make his current charges fit for purpose.
By now we know what to expect and there will be no surprises with Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™’s play. Their high and heavy pressing game remains their calling card and Klopp hasn’t altered their basic 4-3-3 shape for some time. Captain Jordan Henderson is in charge of controlling the game from his position between defence and midfield and his calm, prolific distribution and fast cross-field switches have become a key feature of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™’s attacking play, while Henderson’s slow response time to turnovers and the fact that he often ends up one-against-two on the counter, his midfield colleagues marooned up front, leave the Reds vulnerable at all times.
Last season it was argued that the Reds became too easy to play against. Opposition sides realised that the counter-press was Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™’s most dangerous attacking weapon, and that it could be neutralised simply by giving the Reds possession and assembling behind the ball. This left the pace-merchants with no space to run into and suckered Coutinho into smashing shots at goal from ludicrous distances and angles, and effectively neutralised their attack.
The addition of Salah has given them another string to their bow. While the likes of Firmino, Mané and Adam Lallana were always pretty good at using fast, explosive combinations to pick their way through deep backlines, none had the precision or, more importantly, the livewire last-man movement and nose for goal that Salah has. His quick thinking and even quicker legs have seen Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ become as effective against parked buses as they are when counterpressing. This will be a big worry for Spurs.
Principally, they have a highly streamlined and organised system of play and an enviable level of individual quality throughout the attack. There is no doubt as to anyone’s role, or that the players are perfectly suited to the demands of their position. With Firmino leading the press, Salah and Mané buzzing around the full-backs and runners overlapping or arriving from midfield, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™’s is a formidable and frightening attack at the moment.
The Reds are still very good at keeping the ball - they’ve averaged 57.4% possession this season, the Premier League’s fourth highest figure – and they’ve been unbelievably good at converting their domination into shots – only Manchester City have had more efforts on goal this season and even then it’s not been by much. It’s little surprise that Salah leads the way with both shots and goals, taking 4.54 shots per game in the league for a figure of 16.83 Expected Goals. His actual total of 19 shows how lethal his finishing has been.
As ever, the best form of defence is attack, and while their back four and goalkeeper inspire very little confidence, the fact is Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ generally protect themselves well enough: only Manchester City have allowed fewer shots on their goal this season. The problem is what happens when their opponents break through their press.
As ever, the Reds are their own worst enemies. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have, once again, been jittery all season, recording save percentages way below the league average and allowing opponents to score way more often than should be expected.
It’s not just the keepers, however: Dejan Lovren has been unfairly picked on given the circumstances of his injuries and his inability to recover from a near-total physical collapse, but nonetheless it’s obvious that Lovren and others like Ragnar Klavan and Alberto Moreno are every bit as average as the attacking players are impressive. Perhaps with time and training Van Dijk and Matip can form a sturdier partnership than Reds fans have become accustomed to seeing.
As well as a lack of individual quality, their seemingly constant openness and their opponents’ unerring ability to score seemingly every shot they have is a logical and obvious knock-on effect of playing as high up the pitch as Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ do. Having such a creaky defence is one thing but repeatedly leaving it exposed to counterattacks is frankly boneheaded, regardless of how good your attack is. Equally as annoyingly, they’ve never quite seemed to get the hang of defending set plays, which never helps.
With a relatively congested calendar at present, we should expect some level of rotation from Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ here and this makes predicting a line-up difficult. We know how they’ll play and we can expect all of the stars to make an appearance, but the supporting cast could vary.
This is an absolutely massive game for both sides but perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much control and quality from two tired counterpressing units. It will probably be another chaotic and slapstick end-to-end goalfest, ending something like 3-3.